Chicago ‘s Cheesiest Place… Gayle’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese

It’s November, and that is right next to turkeys, snowflakes, and Santa. It also means that Indian summer is a memory and the city earns the title the Windy City. These days can be brisk and cold. You need some good old fashioned comfort food and I found it right here in downtown Chicago. Gayle Voss has made something as simple as grilled cheese and made it into an art form.  Visitors coming in from O Hare from all around the world have been eating it, as well as the many shoppers, retail store workers, and others that populate the State Street area. But it is not Chicago that has captured this humble shop, the New York Post has officially declared Gayle’s one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in America. But what makes this place so special? Perhaps it’s the details and organization of Gayle Voss and the rapport she has with her workers. Or maybe it is the farm fresh ingredients and love that she puts into each menu item that she sells? Whatever  is the formula , it works.

We walked in this morning and found Gayle and her crew putting together a cake kit that Gayle claims is the easiest chocolate cake that you can make and yes even non cooks like me can make. The kit is for a mocha chocolate chip cake to die for. Along with some other goodies, Gayle is selling these kits for 12.00.,  if you need an original and delicious hostess gift. She even makes them pretty with holiday trim and gift bags. Perfect to appease that future mother in law. There is just so much on the menu and all of it looked so good. Since it was breakfast, we had to try the “Breakfast club first. The “Club” comes with three options and we chose the first one which had pork sausage , egg, butterkase cheese (which Gayle swears by and uses on quite a few other sandwiches)and pure maple syrup. It is like eating an old fashioned breakfast at a pancake house with the sourdough bread. Much better and heartier than those other breakfast sandwiches. I will definitely be getting one the next time I am on my way to OHare. Since Gayle’s is right down from the Blue Line at Jackson, it is a convenient place to grab breakfast while you are waiting for your flight. With those cold winds blowing,  we also got the chance to pair up two old favorites, the classic grilled cheese with the tasty tomato pesto soup. The soup contains pine nuts and you just gotta dip the classic in it. It will bring back memories of those cold mornings when school was cancelled and mom made toasted cheese and tomato soup. The “sweetie pie” is so sweet you will swear you are eating a breakfast pastry with the tangy mixture of swiss cheese , pecans, and raspberry jam. Gayle has named some of her sandwiches after the places where she gets those yummy ingredients. For example the Jake is named for Jake’s Country Music where she gets her meat products. The Jake reminds me once more of home with the apple butter spread on the ham and gouda. Yummy. The River Valley  is named for the River Valley Ranch  where the mushrooms are grown. No cans here. What was the taste treat here was the sweet onion marmalade that was spread over the grilled mushrooms. My personal favorite !  We also got the chance to munch on the world famous cheese curds made from the sourdough bread crumbs and deep fried with the butterkase cheese inside. They were little balls of heaven according to Jen.

Next time you are downtown, head over to Block 37 and visit Gayle and her gang. They will leave you with a taste you won’t soon forget and you will understand why Chicago travelers find this cheese utopia.  Gayle’s is located at 108 N State Street , Suite 27 , right on the Pedway and they are open from 7 to 3. Starting Nov 20th, Gayle’s will be open from 7 am to 6pm so holiday shoppers and travelers can indulge. Gayle will also special make your order spicier or gluten free as well.

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Mamma Mia! What an Experience!  Vero Pizza and Pasta

Imagine the scenario that you have had an emergency and someone you love has gone to the hospital. Or maybe your boss has invited her and her spouse to dinner. You don’t have time to run to the store or get a caterer. Well let me tell you about a new service that can help make your life a little easier. Here in the Midwest, I came across a subscription meal service that embraces that old world Italian feel. They also use only the freshest ingredients and best of all it ‘s fun. Vero Pizza and Pasta is stationed out of St Louis.  It’s family feel comes from the “Collier” family and the time they spent in Italy. I told them that Jen is part Sicilian and grew up with homemade Italian. They were definitely up for the challenge.

They make sure that you get your package and their customer service rocks. Johnny made sure that we got taken care of when we had some shipping issues. They also pack some goodies so the whole family can have fun while they learn about cooking and the Italian culture. Ours had hats and coloring for Halloween . We had fun doing them. They picked two dishes , a pasta and a pizza.

They send you all of the ingredients , meat , cheese, and spices. Cheese is definitely the word. Have no fear, if you can’t cook they send easy recipes with all the steps. If you still are confused, just watch one of the videos that shows you how. The first dish was a scrumptious Casio de Pepe shells and broccoli rabe. The shells were the freshest and actually had to pulled out before they were cooked. The sauce was heavenly and creamy and the broccoli was fresh.  The second  dish was more conventional  and much more fun . It was also a little more messy. Coming from the city known for pizza, actually making our own pizza from the dough was interesting. We added all of the ingredients , except the swiss chard. It was as good as the fancy , designer pizzas that we taste for the blog.  The verdict is that they use ingredients that are not likely to get thrown away. The swiss chard I used to put on sandwiches and burgers that following week, so nothing went to waste.

The greatest part is that the purchased meal  also provides  for a child that normally won’t eat. It is nice to know that the kids in third world countries can be fed, but remember even here at home children are starving.  Operation Food Service in St Louis has partnered up with Vero to make sure those kids have warm food in their stomachs.  Vero Pizza and Pasta is stationed in St Louis but will ship. For more info: visit

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Urban Crosta- Streeterville ‘s Answer to Gourmet Pizza 

It could be described as a cross between  Chicago and New York style pizzas. But one thing for sure is that  it is truly extraordinary. Located off of the Mag Mile in Streeterville, Urban Crosta is the perfect break from shopping, an evening at the theatre, or just something to pick up on the way home from work. It is located near Hotel  Row and convenient to  Lurie Children’s and Northwestern Medical Centers.  But if you are tired of the conventional and chain pizzas, this is a place that you should definitely check out.

We started out with our usual beverages. Jen had her soda and I pondered the cocktail menu. I found a winner with the Tipsy Tea. It was a mixture of sweet tea vodka, peach puree, lemon juice , and Old Forrester Bourbon. Surprisingly, it had a refreshing taste and the puree countered the whiskey. It was a yummy way to start the meal.

While we were trying to decide on what pizza to have, we nibbled on one of the appetizers. The Spinach Artichoke dip was outstanding.  The chiles gave the dip a little bit of a kick but it was married well with the parmesan cheese . It gave the rather plain dip a sophisticated taste.

 The salads had that gourmet taste as well. They were not just lettuce and veggies, they were truly works of art. The Caesar was garnished with anchovies as well as the requisite croutons and parmesan. My salad was called the Arugula Avocado. The best part of the salad was the citrusy feel combined with the goat cheese and pieces of grapefruit . The salad was drizzled with a balsamic orange vinaigrette. The light taste was a nice overture to the main course. 

Crosta’s spotlight was definitely the pizza and we were happy to find out that they also sell by the slice. Not only that, you can also make your own slice. Perfect for that upcoming holiday shopping.  I had to try their steak chimichurra pizza. The skirt steak was tender and I liked that it that thick thin crust with the kicky taste. Since Jen is Sicilian, to her pizza is sacred and she went with their “build your own’ pizza option. The pizzas are made in stone ovens and that’s what gives it that gourmet taste. She made a pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, and sausage and everything was so fresh I could smell the mushrooms as we took them home.  

The perfect ending to a meal like this was the perfect dessert and that is exactly what we had . We were treated with a piece of the sweetest and most moist piece of cheesecake and the richest tiramisu . It was the most excellent way to end this Italian eating experience. Brava! To the people at Urban Crosta!

Urban Crosta is located at 355 E Ohio, a block from Lake Shore Drive and a couple blocks from the Mag Mile. They don’t open until 4 but stay open till midnight on Fri and Sat. The rest of the week they are open until ten. It is the perfect rest from the hustle and bustle of the Mag Mile.

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Beautiful Treasures Await You at Mountain Mama Pearls 

There isn’t anything more precious than a jewel from the ocean. When I was a little girl, I can remember going to Sea World in Ohio and watching Asian girls diving to find oysters for the guests . My dad would get one for my mom and then we would watch them open it to find the pearl inside. He usually had it mounted in a ring for her. I always wanted one of my own. Well thanks to Erica at Mama Mountain Pearls, now I do. Erica started the business after attending pearl parties with her mom.  She hails from one of my favorite states, Vermont. She decided to bring this tradition to West Virginia. By starting this company, she hopes to bring those happy memories to others through Pick a Pearl Parties. You don’t even have to strap on a mask or get wet. Just gather a group of gal pals, pour some drinks and watch as the girls open your pearls and then you can have them mounted in any group of beautiful settings. Erica loves to throw these on line parties and there are always giveaways  as well.

Erica was totally awesome and customer friendly. She sent me an oyster and a cage so I could mount the necklace myself. Her directions were so simple and there was minimal mess if you chose to have your oyster sent. It is kind of more fun and your kids will learn about how pearls grow in oysters. With the party, jewelry is sent after it is mounted. I say that they are awesome because my pearl and necklace arrived the day I was flying to NYFW. We were so busy packing , that we misplaced the necklace. I felt so bad , but Erica is so much of a sweetheart that she sent me another necklace free of charge. Most merchants won’t do that , but Erica did. Now I have a beautiful necklace.

For a fun experience or educational one, Mountain Mama Pearls will give you a unique experience you won’t soon forget and you will also have a new stunning piece of jewelry.  

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Gabrielle Union Helps to Tame Frizzies with Flawless

Everyone that has curly hair wants straight and vice versa. One of the biggest problems of the summer is frizzy hair. Take it from someone who had to put a ton of hair spray when she had her senior picture taken. But I was given a gift . I was sent a package of goodies from Gabrielle Union . They call the line Flawless and that is just it has done made my hair flawless when it was straightened. It has made it silky and soft.  The shampoo and conditioner have a golden color and a great smell. Flawless also works on color treated hair and doesn’t fade it. It not only takes care of the frizzies and heals damaged hair, it also strengthens hair.  It is also cruelty free .

I highly recommend the products. Through the years with wind, and chemicals , and harsh lights, I have had my hair damaged a lot. These products, including the hair repair masque have started to repair some of the damage. Thanks to Gabrielle Union, my hair is back on the road to recovery.

You can find Gabrielle Union’s products at Ulta and online


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Fall is a Delicious Season at Smallcakes …..

 Autumn is a feast of the senses. Everything from the colorful leaves to the smells of hot cider and pumpkin latte says that fall is here. Along with those smells, come the special foods of fall . Apples are made into pies and crisps. Pumpkins are carved into scary creatures and now made into everything from cereal to pizza. But with those fall flavors come great treats. Hey! You can indulge because Christmas is around the corner and bathing suit season is a memory.

One of the best places to indulge that sweet tooth is Smallcakes Cupcakery. They have a few locations , we chose to revisit the one on Greenview in Lakeview. It is a popular place for kids and also for families. We were happy to see that they still had the pupcakes and also that they remembered us. What was really cool was that they had our order prepared for us when we arrived. Now to enjoying the tastes of fall.

Jen is mad about the Pumpkin cupcake and its brown sugar cream cheese frosting. It reminded me of pumpkin bread that my mother used to make. It had that special pumpkin taste and it didn’t have too much spice in it. My favorite was the Mississippi Mud one. I am such a choco –holic and this one was perfect for me. The frosting was chock full of pecans, vanilla bean butter cream, and marshmallow. The cake was a luscious chocolate graham cake. Since I come from Ohio, I always associate apples with fall and was also excited with the special Apple Orchard Cupcake. It captured everything that I remember about those Ohio falls growing up.  The cider cake mixed well with the cream cheese and caramel that was on the top. The perfect touch was the apple perched on top as a garnish. We came in for our favorite tastes of fall and were not disappointed. There was even a cupcake that was called Everything Fall and it combined all the best tastes of Autumn.

So if you have a special occasion or a theme party , Smallcakes A Cupcakery and Creamery is the place for that one of a kind cake. Don’t forget, they also have ice cream and their trademark cupcake smashes. They are located at 3054 N Greenview Avenue. 

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 A Little Taste of the Big Apple- Joe’s Tea and Chips 


Recently, I visited New York City . While I was there, I got the chance to try some exceptional tea. As you well know, tea is my Kryptonite. Jen has her soda and I have my teas. I only tried one but the great folks at Joe’s Tea sent me a nice little goodie package.  I got to tell you, most of the time I have to have my Snapple, but after tasting Joe’s , well there might be a little bit of competition.

Not as known as Arizona or Snapple, Joe’s comes from Elizabeth , New Jersey.  Twenty years ago, the company decided to sell iced tea out of the back of a Dodge Intrepid. True to its roots, the company has a picture of that truck on each bottle.  Company rep Sally Russell added that their product tends to appeal  to stores seeking products that help differentiate their business. The company sells about twenty beverages. Of course, I could only have a small sample of the teas and lemonades. The drinks have a more pronounced flavor than Snapple.  Joe’s also elevates itself as a special beverage , considerably has a more sophisticated following than the lesser Arizona. The lemonade has that tangy natural lemonade flavor. The peach tea has that sun tea flavor with the richest peach flavor I have tasted. But by far, the one I enjoyed was the half tea and half lemonade. I love what one company calls the “Arnold Palmer”, but Joes has taken the concept to another level. The tea and lemonade are equals and not one flavor outweighs the other.  Joe’s only uses natural ingredients  and cane sugar. That is what makes it special than other drinks.

I also got a chance to try the other product of the company. Encouraged by the sales of their teas, Joe’s Chips was born.  Their taste has that homemade kettle flavor which makes the chips heartier than the usual thin chips that are fried. The chips are full bodied and definitely filling. They are perfect with a sandwich or just by themselves. The sweet potato chips had a pumpkin taste and I couldn’t stop talking about the sweet onion flavor in the sour cream and onion chips. The chips come in the 2 oz and 5 oz sizes and the beverages come in an old fashioned glass bottle.

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